1 The competition brief
The province of Guangdong and the municipalities of Guangzhou wish to build a new, prestigious congress centre to meet the considerable demand for international and national conferences, the extensive meetings of the provincial and municipal governments and the growing demand for commercial fairs and cultural manifestations.
In order to achieve the desired level of exposure and allure for the building, an international architectural competition was organized. Out of all the candidatures received, twelve local and international design teams were selected and invited to participate.
The complex has a total floor surface area of approx. 210 000 m², of which 75 000 m² for the main building, 25 000 m² for exhibition space and other supporting facilities and 110 000 m² for two high-end hotels.
The investment budget equals 1.8 billion RMB, or approx. 180 million. The competition includes the design and the construction of the project.
2 The project team
Buro II submitted its candidature in combination with a local architectural office, the Design Institute of CITIC. Buro II fulfils the role of leading architect. Engineer-architect Salvatore Bono leads the design team, having developed the architectural concept together with engineer-architect Pieterjan Vermoortel. After the selection the team was expanded further. The current team includes:
Laurent Ney & Partners (België) - structural design,
Ingenium nv (België) - technical design,
Daidalos (België) - energy and acoustics,
TTAS bvba (België) - technical theatre design,
Denis Dujardin en Stefaan Thiers (België) - landscape design,
Van Santen & Ass. (Frankrijk) - façade engineering
Lens°Ass (België) - interior design.
3 Jury, brief and construction
The competition was organized in the spring of 2005. The jury was held in the month of July. From the twelve participants, three projects were chosen that best fulfilled the competition brief. After a round of supplementary questions and answers, our team was chosen as laureate. The client confirmed this choice at the beginning of August, allowing contract negotiations to commence.
The buildings must be ready for use at the end of 2006. The construction documents are now being prepared.
4 The site
The 24-hectare building site lies in the northern borough of Guangzhou, with views over Baiyun Mountain. This nature park is very popular amongst residents and tourists due to the landscape and nature and the diverse historical attractions. The site itself was known for the past twenty years as an airport and extensive amusement park. The park gradually lost its appeal and was closed and dismantled in 2004.
Today, the entire area appears fragmented. A highway separates the Baiyun nature park from the city and the building site. The nearby residential blocks and school buildings are insufficient as a foundation for a new, qualitative urban development.
The planned development of the commercial urban centre to the north will, in the short term, generate a new urbanity between the city centre and the surrounding boroughs. If this process is not directed by clear qualitative goals, we risk the continuation of the existing fragmentation throughout the new context.
This ambitious project offers a unique opportunity for the development of a new urban concept. The new congress centre must succeed in being the motor and the tool for the integration of the existing contradictions into a new sustainable whole.
5 Vision and concept
Weaving nature and town
Despite its fragmentation, the site does have enormous qualities and potential. It is a location where the historical dialog between the city and the surrounding mountains can be restored, albeit with a contemporary edge. The areas social and economical progress can be placed within a broader and more sustainable perspective by taking important cultural and ecological aspects into account.
The existing nature park to the east of the highway can be expanded over a larger area to the east of the highway, incorporating the Dajinzhong reservoir as an ecological aspect within the parks program. New connections with the west side of the Baiyun Road will improve the accessibility of the park from the city centre and the metro station.
The new buildings will not ( as usual ) simply occupy public space, but rather act as a basis for a new urban story. Showing respect for the identity of the site and the weaving of nature and town will create a new symbol for meetings, for the exchanging of ideas and for the construction of a prosperous future.
An intensely permeated "mountain-town" landscape
We propose not to build a solitary and closed object.
We would prefer to integrate the new congress functions into a general system of open physical connections between the location of the future city centre and the mountain park. We are not building new obstacles, but rather accompanying the gentle movement of the mountain towards the city and vice versa to reconcile the presence of human culture with nature. A massive closed façade along the highway would increase the existing fracture and render a new dialog between the park and the city impossible.
The new building complex will be a fragmented volume, leaving ample open perspectives to maintain the visibility of the mountains from within the city. Therefore we have developed the program as horizontally as possible, with independent east-west oriented volumes. We place the new buildings as far east on the site as possible, close to the highway, to maximiza the public square at the front of the building, along the main road to the city. A fifteen-meter high base with a landscape pattern of roof gardens and patios extends the nature park throughout the site. Four eco-bridges cross the Baiyun Road (highway) and heal the physical fracture between the mountain and the plain.
A system of slopes ("green fingers"), coming down from roof garden level to ground level, adjoins the new central square on the side of the city. Five volumes in red stone emerge from the base, as artificial hills between the green fingers. They are a symbolical reference to the"Five Goats" of the well-known local legend. These fluid forms determine visual "canyons" between the public square and the mountain landscape. As such, the Baiyun International Congress Centre is an intensely permeated "mountain-town" landscape.
On the one hand it is an extension of the mountains' relief into the new town centre, while on the other hand it is an opportunity to create several connections from the town towards the surrounding nature.
An exceptional place
Conventional congress centres are usually more or less designed as black boxes or as big meeting machines without soul. Most of these are not bound to a local context and, hence, could be built anywhere. However, the conviction that such concepts are becoming more and more obsolete, as they are too static and can no longer respond to the challenges of the future.
Contemporary congress centres must be an interactive and multifunctional infrastructure, directed at the diverse needs and requirements of both local and international markets. If, in addition, they wish to be sustainable, then they must also be anchored in their local context and must emphasize their own specific identity.
They must be efficient, while also projecting a great openness that can appeal to visitors of all cultures. For these are the places where local and global melt into a new unity.
The baiyun International Conference centre must become a sustainable meeting place with an original character an on a human scale. The concept we propose is based on open, modular and flexible spaces, interconnected by efficient and secured circulation systems. The whole is embedded within a unique combination of nature and town. It becomes a vibrant and unforgettable place to experience.
6 Competition design
Within this forum, it is not possible to discuss all the details of the competition design. It would demand too many schematics and a specialized commentary. Therefore, only certain key elements will be explained further.
Building concept: "efficient highperformance infrastructure"
The functional organisation of the building:
The functional surfaces are logically grouped through a combination of horizontal and vertical functional modules. The horizontal modules are grouped in a two-story base. They house the general services: the entrance halls, the main foyers, the general catering services (kitchens and restaurants), the multifunctional exhibition and banquet halls, a VIP-area, the offices for management and supervision, the media-centre and the main circulatory connections.
The vertical modules consist of five blocks housing specialized activities. Each of these can function independently or be linked to the others (through the horizontal base).
The congress centre is housed within the three central blocks. The northern block includes an exclusive meeting hall and an auditorium that seats 2500 people. The central block houses the midsized halls, and the southern block the halls for 1000 and for 500 people.
The hotels are located in the end-buildings, with 500 rooms in the northern building and 600 rooms in the southern block. They are linked to the congress centre at ground level and at roof level. They house restaurants and bars, dance halls, clubs, business centres, fitness centres ...
The circulation around the building:
Pedestrians and motorized traffic are kept completely separate. The design foresees an underground street and a car park for 1000 vehicles. The wooded strip between the highway and the building offers parking space for up to 60 busses. The nearby subway-station is given an underground connection to the new building.
The circulation inside the building:
A simple and clear internal organisation services all the functions at hand. There are connections to the open spaces at all levels, which also serve as evacuation routes.
Formal and informal connections:
The "green fingers" and eco-bridges offer additional access points and possibilities for outdoor activities. The foyers of the three central blocks open directly onto the roof gardens.
The centre can be run in a modular fashion. Important international meetings can take place concurrently with small or midsized activities.
This offers the potential, if so desired, for a permanent optimal occupation, reducing the payback time of the investment. An entire block can be closed off from the others and kept in standby, reducing maintenance costs. Local activities can also be given a place among the other events, allowing a good social and cultural integration of the local residents.
In order to give form to the concept of weaving the natural and the artificial in a natural way, a standard construction grid served as starting point, as a guarantee for a technically feasible and economical solution.
Subsequently, certain simple transformations were applied to better integrate the interior and exterior spaces into the same movement. The result is a global unity in a fluid form with a dynamic character. The chose material for the northern and western elevations is red quartz sandstone, often used in local historical buildings. The southern elevations were kept very transparent, to allow the interior and exterior spaces to connect seamlessly. The high-performance glazing offers open views to the mountains, protected from the sunlight by stainless steel sun shields.
The interior actively helps to achieve the general concept of unity and continuity.
The interior facings of the exterior walls and roves are finished in the same red quartz sandstone. The floors of the foyers and the main circulation spaces are paved in local light grey granite. The floors and walls of the auditoria are wood-panelled, using different colours and treatments. Red and black carpets are also foreseen where acoustically necessitated.
Energy concept, structure and technical installations, acoustics The multidisciplinary design team worked together in an integrated fashion. The design choices constantly took place within a strict framework: cost, functional requirements, technical possibilities and safety requirements, urban planning considerations and sustainability principles were continually evaluated.
Functional sustainability, minimal and ecological use of materials, rational water use, maintenance friendliness and rational energy use (and use of renewable energy sources) were the most important guiding principles for the decisions.
Furthermore, the warm and humid climate of Guangzhou presented a unique challenge for the design team.
The weaving of nature and town is the central principle of the landscape concept. The image utilizes the metaphor of natural fingers that penetrate the building.
The relationship between the higher mountainous environment and the low-lying city has a double aspect: a visual link and a physical link. Both aspects form the starting point for the landscaping of the overall public space: the large square the canyons, the roof gardens, the eco-bridges and the natural park.